Hostile subjects

Contributors face a well-armed assailant.

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Dave Hansford

Far from the frontline of journalism, contributors nonetheless face hostilities in New Zealand. Writer Dave Hansford quietly approached an octopus off Makara on Wellington’s north-west coast. “Normally, they show intelligent curiosity, but this individual promptly went bright red and launched himself at me without a moment’s hesitation,” says Hansford. He fired one last frame (above) before “everything went dark”.

“I had the thing around the housing, my regulator and the back of my head. My diving buddy was so convulsed by laughter she could do nothing to help. I tried prising it off arm by arm, which was about as useful as trying to wrestle wet spaghetti.”

Bound and blind, Hansford decided to match his wits with the beast: “I decided that maybe it had a territory, and if could just swim with it outside that territory it might let go. Well, octopuses must have huge home territories, is all I can say…”

After 10 minutes, he managed to prise himself free, leaving the camera housing with the octopus on the bottom until it got bored and moved away.

Kim Westerskov, a photographer featured in the same story, recalls a similar experience.

“They seem especially attracted to light-coloured or shiny metal things, even exposed bits of skin,” he says. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, and can seem intimidating at first, especially if it’s a big octopus.”

One octopus—also on the Wellington coast—seized his camera, and in the process broke the waterproof seal, destroying the circuitry. “My insurance man gave me the ‘Best Story of the Month’ award, and paid for a new one,” he says.

Photographs taken of the incident on a second camera were published in magazines in North America and Europe. Westerskov, who also holds a doctorate in marine sciences, suspects that it was a female defending her eggs from would-be intruders.

Later on the same dive, his buddy was attacked, too, this time both legs bound up and an arm restrained to his body. If the octopus had got to his other arm and regulator too, he reasons, “things could have got interesting”.

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